Soccer can't kick its addiction to caring about the stupid things ex-stars have to say


We’re talking about retired players talking again. Because we have a weird fixation on what players who are no longer players have to say about the current game, no matter how little relevance they now have. Somehow, it’s always reported on, always making headlines, contributing to soccer’s entirely useless echo chamber.

Ryan Giggs had something to say the other day. Not about his current job as Wales manager, mind you, which isn’t going particularly well. No, he felt compelled to chime in about something another guy had said about something a few different guys had said.

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It’s all a bit complicated, but former Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic spoke of what he sees as a quasi-cult of personality around the Red Devils’ longtime manager Sir Alex Ferguson, which endures in the latter’s retirement. Primarily, some of Ferguson’s key players, like Giggs, continue to carry the Scot’s water in the media – in Ibrahimovic’s telling, anyway. The Swede said in an interview with The Mirror that the reason the so-called Class of ’92 – Giggs along with Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham – were always critical of current United star Paul Pogba was because the Frenchman left United as a young free agent and had to be bought back for a world-record fee.

Ferguson let him walk because he felt Pogba had asked too much money for an unproven player. And you might reasonably argue that Ferguson simply got it wrong, costing the club nine figures to correct his mistake. But, per Ibrahimovic, the Ferguson loyalists felt that Pogba had done the club wrong, somehow, for doing what was best for him and his career. “And in the circle of Ferguson, they don’t like that,” Ibrahimovic said. And so they have been incessantly critical.

“They are not there anymore,” Ibrahimovic added. “They are on TV and complaining all the time because they are not active in the club. If you want to work in the club, go and search for work in the club. So you cannot be on TV and always complaining and criticizing. Yeah, OK, you’ve had your time, we know it.”

And so Giggs hit back.

“Only Nicky [Butt] is connected with the club now but when you play over 2,000 games between us, we are going to have an opinion,” Giggs said, according to the Guardian. “Sometimes it’s positive, sometimes negative, but it doesn’t have an effect on results. We are supporters. That’s what football is about, having different opinions. But [Ibrahimovic] obviously knows more about the club than us.”

Patrice Evra is saying deeply stupid things again, and he's not the only ex-soccer star doing so. (Getty)
Patrice Evra is saying deeply stupid things again, and he's not the only ex-soccer star doing so. (Getty)

The irony of Giggs declaring that “different opinions” exist when he’s rebutting somebody else’s opinion was clearly lost on him, before he sarcastically denigrated Ibrahimovic for spending less time at the club than they did.

It’s all terribly boring.

But here’s another story about retired players talking: Former France and United defender Patrice Evra is in hot water for a homophobic rant on social media after United came from behind to upset Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16.

“Paris, you are some f******; some f******, I’m telling you,” he said, per the Guardian. “We [United] put our D-team [against PSG] and we did you. Some kids played – they used to clean my boots. They don’t even have sperm. Paris, you are some p******.”

That rightly caused an outcry. But it was only noticed because we still care about what Evra has to say at all.

Then there’s the immutable Diego Maradona’s latest rant about the Argentine national team he once starred for. This time manager Lionel Scaloni drew Maradona’s ire by not calling up Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, Maradona’s former son-in-law and the father of his grandson.

"I don't want him for my team, he couldn't even direct traffic,” Maradona said of Scaloni, in typically brash fashion. Never mind that it’s been almost 9 years since he last managed the Albiceleste – in a fairly brief and wholly disappointing spell – and a quarter of a century since he played for it. This somehow remains “my team” for Maradona.

Then there’s the champion of the pointless retiree’s take: Pele. Because Maradona, his long-time rival, at least tends to be noteworthy in his unprovoked putdowns.

Pele has not had any substantial involvement in soccer since retiring as a player in 1977. Yet again and again, his opinion is sought out. Hilariously, he’s put together quite a streak in being wildly wrong about his picks for the World Cup winner – or really anything else.

He predicted that Colombia would win the 1994 World Cup; that Brazil would win in 2018; that an African team would win the World Cup by the end of the last century; that Spain would win in ’98; that Argentina or France would win in 2002; that Brazil wouldn’t win in 2002. He was wrong about all of them. Sometimes catastrophically so. Yet when he talks, it’s somehow always a story.

And here we are talking about it all. Just as we’ll talk about the next things Pele says, or Maradona says, or Giggs says.

Because soccer has an addiction to the opinions of former stars that it just can’t seem to kick.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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